FTCC's C-STEP represents avenue to pursue American dream

The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP, housed in the office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seeks to admit, identify, enroll and graduate high-achieving, low-to-moderate income students transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill from partner community colleges.

Fayetteville Technical Community College’s C-STEP program began in 2011. Each year, two cohorts of students — a group of first-year FTCC students and a group of second-year FTCC students — participate in C-STEP.

FTCC students Halona Dantes and Anjali Saji attended FTCC’s open house during summer 2019. Both young ladies arrived in Fayetteville the day before the open house event. Both students are from India where their mothers, who are nurses, participated with a recruiting agency for nurses to allow their families to emigrate from their home country to the United States. Neither student nor family knew each other before their arrival in Fayetteville.

“My parents sacrificed a lot for me, and the thought of having a chance to better myself with the educational opportunities within the United States is what motivated my parents to make the move,” Dantes said.

The process for Dantes' parents to leave Kuwait and Saji’s parents to leave Bahrain began in 2018 and was not an easy feat.

Dantes said, “The process is hard and intense, and I wanted to do well in college because of all the advantages my parents were trying to afford me with.”

Each family had to complete a compilation of tests and exams in English and score proficiently in each area to pass. They also had to complete and pass an interview. At the time, they did not know that both mothers would end up working as nurses at Cape Fear Valley Hospital.

After applying and being selected to C-STEP, both students quickly adjusted to the program and made friends with their cohorts.

Saji reflected on that early period: “I was really scared, and I had a fear about coming from abroad and being accepted," she said. "However, my cohort group was very accepting and welcoming. The fear I had about making friends vanished because I got to make friends through class engagement and various other components that the program provides.”

Each student exudes the embodiment of what it means to be a C-STEP student. Each student has goals, accountability, strong character and a desire to achieve and give back to the community.

The C-STEP program requires interested students to earn their associate degree at a North Carolina Community College and then transfer to Carolina to complete their studies. Once a student completes a degree at FTCC, he or she is guaranteed admissions into Carolina.

But the advantages offered to C-STEP students go far beyond providing them with admission into UNC-Chapel Hill. C-STEP is an all-encompassing program that allows students to gain extensive knowledge of the Carolina campus, meet key individuals who will be of aid when they arrive at Carolina, and receive an opportunity to learn and grow with like-minded individuals who become far more than just peers.

Saji summed up her motivation to succeed: “How could I not do well in my classes? My parents have given up and sacrificed so much to give me a better chance.”

For more information about FTCC and C-STEP, please contact the author, the FTCC C-STEP Progam Director, at

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Pictured:  (Left) Halona Dantes and (Right) Anjali Saji.  Both are students in FTCC's C-STEP program.

Gilbert Theater keeps holiday doors open with "The Carols"

04 the CarolsThis holiday season the Gilbert Theater presents its newest Christmas production, “The Carols,” starting Nov. 27.

“The Carols,” with its classic 1940’s style comedy set during World War II, is a story about the three Carol sisters who run the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and are struggling to put on their annual “A Christmas Carol” production while facing another dilemma — the lack of men in town due to the war.

“So they decide they're going to cast all women, then put an audition notice out, nobody shows up but this surprise guest,” Director Robyne Parrish said. “This one dude, Melvin, shows up and he's not quite right but he's all they've got, so they hire him on and they put together one of the most ridiculous ‘Christmas Carols’ of all time.”

She describes it as a sweet, feel-good movie about family, loss and hope. The production shows the sisters struggling to put on their show with just four people, said cast member Evan Bridenstine.

“It seems impossible for quite some time but then they perform and that's the act two,” he said. “The songs are great, none of them are those you've heard, most of them have that ear-worming quality that gets in your head and stays for a while.”

Bridenstine, who plays the character of Melvin, described the production as funny, yet having a seriousness to it, due to the times it's set in.

Parrish said the themes for the hour and 45-minute show are family, ‘there’s no place like home,’ and a kind of Christmas carol in disguise.

The Artistic Director for the theater, Lawrence Carlisle, described the show as something on a lighter note that is needed during current times.

“The Carols” will run three different weekends: Nov. 27- 29, Dec. 4-6 and Dec.18-20. Patrons can purchase tickets on the website. Tickets start at $16 but the theater offers discounts for military, students and first responders. There will be a military appreciation day with tickets being $10, Carlisle said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the theater, which usually holds about 100 people, has had to cut down capacity to 25. There will be temperature checks for patrons, a requirement for masks and contactless entry with use of electronic tickets.

On Nov. 28, the first Saturday show, there will be a masked performance where the actors will wear face shields to accommodate patrons who don’t feel comfortable with mask-less actors, Parrish said.

Despite continued concerns with the pandemic, the Gilbert continues to produce local entertainment even as it struggles, Carlisle said. Having to reduce audience capacity, buying additional cleaning supplies and rearranging how they do things has been interesting, he said.

Parrish said the theater already operates on a small budget where about 50-75% of the annual budget comes from ticket sales.

“It wasn’t going to work for us to just go in the dark for a year, and wait for a vaccine,” Carlisle said. “To not have any shows at all, you know, we would have just gone out of business.”

Since a lot of people can’t be with family this holiday season due to the pandemic, Parrish said attending a show can be a way for them to feel like they’re a part of something.

“If you’re looking forward to a little bit of joy during the holiday season and a little opportunity to escape and just smile … this show will allow people to escape, for a little while, from all that we are going through right now,” she said.

For more information on “The Carols” and Gilbert Theater, visit

Pictured: Cast members of "The Carols" rehearse for the musical scheduled to open Nov. 27 at the Gilbert Theater.


Gilbert's "Barefoot in the Park" offers respite from 2020

16 JH 09125After a six-month hiatus due to COVID-19, the Gilbert Theater is back in action with “Barefoot in the Park,” a Neil Simon classic. “Barefoot in the Park” runs through Oct. 18 with limited seating and social distancing in effect due to COVID-19 guidelines for public gatherings.

“Barefoot in the Park” first premiered on Broadway in 1963 and went on to have a successful movie adaptation with countless stage performances around the country since. Seeing it now — in the year of pandemics, riots and election ads — is a breath of fresh air and a simple reminder that a little bit of laughter is often just what you need.

After a six-day honeymoon, Corie and Paul start their married life in their fifth-floor-walkup in New York City. The tiny apartment leaves something to be desired, but Corie sees the possibilities. Paul sees the lack of a tub and a hole in the skylight.

The newlyweds differ in their attitudes toward these inconveniences with Corie being the fun-loving free spirit wearing her heart on her sleeve. Paul, a new lawyer, has a more business-like approach and is not spontaneous as his wife, who is always willing to, as they say, walk barefoot in the park.

Director Lawrence Carlisle III brings together a terrific cast and crew to deliver an entertaining escape from our own troubles in 2020. If only we could go back to when a gal could still get excited about getting a new Princess phone. In the meantime, “Barefoot in the Park” is a fun two hours to enjoy live theater.

The “Barefoot in the Park” cast includes Tanisha Johnson and Gage Long as newlyweds Corie and Paul; Deannah Robinson as Mother Banks, Corie’s mom; Gabe Terry as neighbor Mr. Velasco; and James Merkle as the telephone repairman.

It is a small cast of solid performances, each engaging and interesting. Johnson is full of energy and delivers a fun, believable and adorable Corie. I wanted everything to work out for her character and I look forward to seeing Johnson at the Gilbert in future shows.

Long holds his own because his portrayal of Paul and is as much measured with patience as Johnson’s is uninhibited. Long and Johnson make a good pair on stage and their performances remind me that love and relationships are often about how our differences make us stronger rather than tear us apart.

Robinson is convincing in her supporting role of Mother Banks. One of my favorite Gilbert regulars, Robinson always delivers and is a great addition to the cast.

Terry and Merkle deliver fine performances as quirky neighbor Mr. Velasco and the telephone repairman. Both bring levity to the story and the ensemble.

Safety precautions in place include masks for theater attendants, hand sanitizer stations, no-contact concessions, temperature checks upon entry and cleaning between performances. There will also be two performances on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 and 8 p.m. in which the actors will wear masks.

The Gilbert Theater is located at 116 Green St. Contact the box office for more info on the show or to purchase tickets at

Pictured: The cast of "Barefoot in the Park" take a break during a recent dress rehearsal. The play runs through Oct. 18 at the Gilbert Theater. Photo by Jonathan Hornby Productions.

'In the Spirit of Dickens' kicks off holiday season downtown

01 01 dickens1900037‘A Dickens Holiday’ holds a special place in the hearts of many area residents. Locals look forward to coming together and kickstarting the holiday season with this festive event in downtown Fayetteville. Like so many other traditions in 2020, this year’s event will be a little different due to the pandemic, but participants will still be able to enjoy the beloved event inspired by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

“This is the 21st year we are doing this festival, usually it happens the day after Thanksgiving,” said Antonio Renteria, director of operations for the Arts Council of Fayetteville.

“It started off as a way to bring traffic from the mall area to downtown and focus on those small businesses. It grew from there,” he said.

Instead of a one-day event, this year’s celebration is titled ‘In the Spirit of Dickens,'” and also offers events on the two weekends before Thanksgiving with musicians and other performers.

“We’ll have some carolers out there and cut outs to bring the holiday season even sooner,” Renteria said.

The holiday may look different this year, but the Arts Council is using the opportunity to return the focus to supporting downtown merchants, he said.

Merchants will be doing different specials leading up to the main festival on Nov. 27. The festival won’t have the usual fireworks or the candlelight procession. Also absent this year will be the arts and crafts vendors set up in the downtown area.

“These are some things that we are not doing to mediate some of the larger crowds,” Renteria said. “We are encouraging merchants to bring out holiday gear and come out of their shops and decorate,” he said. “We’ll have the Fayetteville Orchestra, and different actors, like Scrooge, Ghost of Christmas Past, walking up and down the streets.”

This year’s festival will be a combination of efforts with the Arts Council and Cool Springs Downtown District to provide a unique shopping experience.

What we do plan to do is still support our mission of combining the arts in support of our local business and restaurants, that will also allow us to help support our local artists that have been out of work since March, said Robert Pinson, interim president/CEO of the Arts Council.

“The idea is that you may not know exactly what is happening downtown, but you know that there is something fun to see and do and shop, or a great restaurant for lunch or dinner,” Pinson said.

Some of the other attractions downtown for the festival will include Coventry Carolers, local adult and youth musicians from Fayetteville Symphony, brass quartets and Dickens character actors from the Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

“One of my favorite things that we are doing, and I am glad we are getting a chance to do it again this year, is the ‘Gingerbread Community of Hope’ … a gingerbread house competition,” Renteria said. The competition is open to the public, there’s no cost to enter, and you can go online to sign up, he said.

The Encore Academy will display entries in their windows beginning Nov. 23, Pinson said.

“The houses will be up that Monday before and stay up the whole week, so people can come downtown, look at them, scan the QR code and vote on the ones they like,” Renteria said. “It’s a public competition so the community really gets to come out and decide which is the best one.”

The winner of the competition will receive a $250 prize and will be announced the weekend of the event.

The Fayetteville Area Transportation Museum will be doing story time for children and there will be horse drawn carriage rides, said Metoya Scott, public relations manager for the Arts Council.

Like every other year, attendees and visitors are encouraged to dress up in Dickens-themed or Victorian clothing, and a guide to the dress code is available on the Arts Council’s website, Renteria said.

The Arts Council will stream certain events live on the festival’s event page on Facebook for those who don’t feel comfortable coming downtown due to the pandemic.

“For me the biggest thing you’re coming for … is getting to see the carolers and Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, walking around and really just get you into that holiday spirit,” Renteria said.

The event will end the evening of Nov. 27 with the lighting of the community Christmas tree in front of the Arts Council.

“If you're looking for a way to forget about 2020 a little bit, then get outside and enjoy the holiday season for the pure sake of it just being the holidays," Renteria said. “This is definitely the time to come out and do it and leave with a smile on your face.”

For more information about ‘In the Spirit of Dickens,' visit

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CFRT welcomes 'Lady Day' to outdoor audiences in Haymont

15 DSC 5176Following the best theatrical tradition that the show must go on, Cape Fear Regional Theatre returns to “telling great stories” with the opening performance of its 2020-2021 season on Oct. 8, featuring an innovative and exciting musical production of “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill.” Performances will be outdoors at 100 Broadfoot Avenue (behind Haymont Auto). Thanks to the graciousness of the owner of Haymont Auto, and with support from the city of Fayetteville, CFRT is able to provide live theater that is safe and enjoyable for die-hard jazz fans and those who may be new to this national treasure.

Nicknamed “Lady Day,” by her good friend and occasional musical partner, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Billie Holiday remains one of our most renowned American jazz legends. Like all great jazz musicians, Holiday was known for her improvisational skills. She was influenced, while still quite young, by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, and she became enthralled with “scat singing” wherein a singer uses the voice as a musical instrument, improvising melodies and rhythms rather than singing actual words.

Despite a very rough childhood, and as a victim of rampant racial prejudice throughout much of her career, Holiday became an international jazz sensation. Recording for various record labels, her instantly recognizable hits are too numerous to list in this preview. Frank Sinatra lauded her as “the greatest musical influence on me.”

“Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill,” was written by Lanie Robertson and played successfully on and off Broadway before being made into a movie. Set in a South Philly bar, it tells the story of one of Holiday’s last performances before her untimely July 1959 death. Although chock full of legendary jazz numbers, it is called a “musical play” because the title character engages in quite a bit of intimate conversation between songs. Despite some raw moments, this is ultimately a story of resilience.

“During this period when many of us may feel unsure of life itself,” said Greensboro-based artist, Gregory Horton, who directs and designed the costumes, “Lady Day will be so life affirming … especially in the face of COVID-19.”

Janeta Jackson, from CFRT’s sold-out May 2019 production of “Crowns,” brings her amazing voice to the role of Holiday. Jackson reprises her 2019 Charlotte performance, albeit under very different circumstances. Asked how she planned to compensate for an outdoor performance, Jackson replied, “I intend to reimagine the whole setting. I worked at Disney, so I’m used to performing outside.”

Broadway artist and Fayetteville native Brian Whitted acts as music director for the production and also plays the part of Jimmy Powers, Lady Day’s pianist. CFRT audiences will remember him from the 2015 production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Due to the size of the outdoor space, which might mimic the capacity of that Philly Bar& Grill, seating will be very limited so everyone is “encouraged to book early.” The show runs through Oct. 25. Tickets and programs will be paperless and masks will be required of all staff and audience members.

For performance schedules along with available ticket and discount information, please visit or call the box office at 910-323-4233. Please join Up & Coming Weekly in welcoming CFRT’s bold resurrection of live theater here in Fayetteville by making sure that all of these performances are sold out.

Pictured: Janeta Jackson performs as Billie Holiday in CFRT's "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill" Oct. 8-25.

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